21st Century Statecraft: The Department of State’s New Approach to Smart Power

January 24, 2012 By Steven Leiser-Mitchell

There is no denying the impact modern technology and innovation have on statecraft and the use of power in foreign policy.  The advent of the Internet has dramatically affected all forms of communication, including mass-media and trade.  Recent events in Northern Africa, Iran and Syria have highlighted this evolution, with Facebook, Twitter and Youtube playing significant roles in the spread of democratic ideals.  In Japan, after the horrific events of the earthquake and tsunami last March, U.S. Marines were able to expedite aid delivery with hand-held mobile devices.  In response to these shifts in international relations, the Department of State has instituted a policy of 21st Century Statecraft; a combination of traditional foreign policy tools and modern technology to fully leverage the change in the international sphere.

The center-piece of Secretary Clinton’s 21st Century Statecraft is the principle of Internet Freedom.  The Internet has provided an unprecedented expansion in globalization, which has lead to increased foreign investment, economic opportunity, and political freedom.  Closed societies that prevent expressions of political or social opposition will not be able to compete in global markets, or satisfy a populace that craves information and modern technology.  Within the next decade, over 90% of the world’s population will own a cell-phone, creating unprecedented access to information.  For billions of people who live under dictatorial regimes, Internet freedom would offer an outlet to information and a way to express their opinions and concerns.

The rise of modern technology has changed the nature of foreign affairs, elevating civil organizations to levels of increased importance.  With Civil Society 2.0, the Department of State seeks to amplify the effect and role of NGO’s and other civilian organizations in global development.  From the creation of social network platforms to more the simple text-message based aid programs, technology can be a catalyst for social growth both at home and abroad.  A strong civil society can improve emergency relief efforts, as witnessed in Japan and Haiti, which not only saves countless lives, but fosters strong international cooperation.  Technology combined with civil society, can empower communities to be self-sufficient and act as a catalyst for growth.

Through modern technological advancements, individuals are better able to communicate their thoughts and ideas than ever before.  Millions of people each year are gaining access to the Internet, to cell-phones and Facebook, and are joining the ever-widening circle that is international affairs and the global community.  In order to spread American values of “open governments, open economies, and open societies”, we must begin with Internet Freedom, and provide an open link between peoples and foster greater communication and collaboration.  Foreign affairs are no longer simply relations between nations; the statecraft of the 21st century will be leveraging these new connections to bolster America’s leadership.